Communication: The Common Denominator of Leadership? (Part 2)

By Heather Campbell

CommunicationBy David Mason >>

In my previous post I started to look back at some of the leadership models, trends and fads that I’ve encountered in the course of my career – both as a practitioner and a consultant. The reason I decided to do this was to try and prove my own hypothesis that they are all connected by one common denominator – communication.

Whether they are something we learned on a three-week-long management induction course (ah, those were the days!) or ‘the latest thing’ that we’ve just picked up from TED, I really believe that communication is what they’re all about, always.

So this time I’m going to focus on two of those I didn’t get round to previously.

With roots stretching back to the 1930s, and repopularised by Daniel Goleman in the mid ’90s, Emotional Intelligence, in its very description – “the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions” – leans heavily towards communication as its core. It’s all about the ability to really tune in to your own feelings and emotions, and those of others. And, if we dip into each of the four subsets of Emotional Intelligence, the communication link becomes even more obvious.

1. Perceiving Emotions

Before we can deal with emotions, we have to recognise them. Quite often this can depend on the critical communication skill of reading body language and facial signals. So, how good are you at the ‘non-verbals’?

2. Reasoning with Emotions

This is about using emotions to prompt our thinking and catalyse action. But to use those emotions well we have to respond reflexively – in the moment, as opposed to after the event. Really strong communicators remain consciously aware of what they are seeing and experiencing during the discussion, building trust and openness. How ‘in the moment’ were you during your last conversation? Or were you thinking about your next meeting?

3. Understanding Emotions

Good communicators have good conversations with their people. And good conversations build good relationships. So, when the person you’re talking to displays an emotion which is unusual for them, the better your relationship with them, the easier it will be for you to understand where it’s coming from and how to respond. You’ll more readily figure out, for example, whether their issue is work-related, a problem at home or something else.  How ‘understanding’ a boss are you?

4. Managing Emotions

This is a critical element in Emotional Intelligence. Good communicators accept the fact that if the other person becomes emotional, it’s okay. They allow them to express what they are feeling and don’t feel compelled to react with phrases like “calm down” or “no need to cry”. Good communicators see themselves like a rock in turbulent water – they let the emotions flow around them without being disturbed by it. In this way, the emotion comes to an end more quickly and both parties can decide how best to proceed with the discussion. Are you a reactor or a rock?

The other concept I want to link to good communication is Six Sigma. On the surface it couldn’t be more different from Emotional Intelligence, with its focus on achieving measurable and quantifiable financial results. However, in the very elements that distinguish it from other similar initiatives – such as TQM (which I looked at in my previous post) – it relies heavily on good communication. Two, in particular, are worthy of mention.

1. An increased emphasis on strong and passionate management leadership and support

It’s hard to be ‘strong and passionate’ as a leader if you don’t have great communication skills. Whether they are communicating one-to-one, one-to-few or one-to-many, leaders must engage. As Groysberg & Slind say in their Harvard Business Review article Leadership Is a Conversation, “The leader’s shadow is cast through the way that they communicate”.

2. A special infrastructure of “Champions”, “Master Black Belts”, “Black Belts”, “Green Belts” etc. to lead and implement the Six Sigma approach

And this, of course, depends on the power of communication across a whole range of levels and disciplines. Good communication here (for which read ‘good conversations’) depends on the individual being self-aware and possessing the right skills, and the organisational environment being supportive of a positive communication climate. Any infrastructure depends on the strength of its component parts, and ensuring good communication across the whole must be key to the success of any Six Sigma initiative.

In these two examples communication can, again, be seen as the common denominator. It’s not enough in itself, of course. Vision, objectives, strategy and tactics (however they’re labelled in your organisation) – along with whichever models, trends or fads you use to support them – are vital.

But not as vital as communication! Is there anything more important? If there is, I’d love you to tell me what!

What do you think? We’d love to hear your views. Why not leave us a comment below or tweet us @CommsMasters?

Image courtesy of bplanet /

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